OLYMPIA, Wash., Feb. 6, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Phillip Meng, 15, of Vancouver and Sophia Demarco, 14, of Enumclaw today were named Washington's top two youth volunteers of 2018 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. As State Honorees, Phillip and Sophia each will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in late April to Washington, D.C., where they will join the top two honorees from each of the other states and the District of Columbia for four days of national recognition events. During the trip, 10 students will be named America's top youth volunteers of 2018.
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, now in its 23rd year, is conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
These are Washington's top youth volunteers of 2018:
High School State Honoree: Phillip Meng
Nominated by Union High School in Camas
Phillip, a junior at Union High School, founded a nonprofit organization that develops curricula and programs to improve geographic education for students throughout the U.S. and in more than 15 nations around the world. When Phillip was in kindergarten, he was asked whether he wanted a party for his birthday or to go on a hike. He chose the hike, calling it "among the best choices I ever made" because it led to a series of trips
that sparked his love of geography and his participation in the National Geographic Bee. When he realized just how little the average student, even those in developed countries, knows about geography, Phillip wanted to do something to change that. "Cultural, ethnic, and ideological divides threaten to tear entire societies apart," he said. "Geography is essential to bringing fractured societies together through cultural understanding and global perspectives."
So six years ago he started the "International Association of Young Geographers (IAYG)" to educate students around the world about their world. Initially, Phillip wrote a blog and developed a resource platform on social media where students could access geographic information. Later, he built a website and began attracting volunteers. Over the years, Phillip has recruited geography experts to help him develop a teaching curriculum for schools and an educational program for geography clubs that IAYG helps organize. He also has partnered with institutions and governments to disseminate and implement his programs, which have included lectures, seminars, workshops, conferences and a world geography competition for students. Today, Phillip leads a team of over 5,000 volunteers that serves more than 35,000 students and teachers on six continents.
Middle Level State Honoree: Sophia Demarco
Nominated by Enumclaw Middle School in Enumclaw
Sophia, an eighth-grader at Enumclaw Middle School, has been a leader in her school and community in promoting environmental protection and other important causes. "I have always tried to create positive change in my school, neighborhood and community," Sophia said. So, when she entered middle school, she sought a position on the school's Associated Student Body (ASB) council because "I realized we could do more collectively than I could do alone." One of her principal interests on the council has been to work on projects to protect the environment and to teach others how they can support that mission. "Our beautiful Earth has the ability to take care of all its residents if we will take care of it and each other," she said.
Sophia and her fellow council members started small, by staffing a table at lunchtime to show students the difference between items that can be recycled, composted and thrown away. They then ran a campaign to encourage students to use water bottle filling stations with reusable bottles, and planted a sustainable garden at their school. Their recycling and water conservation efforts have reduced the school's overall waste by 70 percent and saved more than 50,000 plastic bottles from being deposited in landfills, said Sophia. To broaden their impact, Sophia and other ASB members have spoken about environmental topics in classrooms and a senior center, and made videos for their entire school. In addition, Sophia has volunteered at a local food bank, handed out backpacks filled with food for hungry kids, and helped raise money to support women and children in Africa.
The program judges also recognized six other Washington students as Distinguished Finalists for their impressive community service activities. Each will receive an engraved bronze medallion.
These are Washington's Distinguished Finalists for 2018:
Izabella Davis, 18, of Lake Forest Park, Wash., a senior at Shorecrest High School, is the founder of "Express Yourself," a nonprofit program that promotes empowerment and self-expression for teenagers with disabilities through workshops on photography, filmmaking and other creative arts. Izabella, who grew up with a physical disability, was determined to ensure other teens did not define themselves by their disabilities, and secured several sponsorships to bring her vision to life.
Veenadhari Kollipara, 16, of Bellevue, Wash., a senior at Interlake High School, has spent the past three summers developing a multi-purpose drone that can help farmers make smarter crop decisions by providing precise, accurate data on soil conditions across their fields. Motivated to promote sustainable farming, Veenadhari learned about an environmentally-friendly farm management methodology, then used feedback from area farmers to make that technology more affordable and easier to use.
Ian Nickels, 18, of Battle Ground, Wash., a senior at Prairie High School, has volunteered since eighth grade with the Clark County Youth Commission, providing a youth perspective to the board of councilors through policy reports on community livability, citizen engagement and other topics. Ian's work with the commission has also involved hands-on volunteering with parks and trails and speaking at a youth achievement celebration.
Rachel Roberson, 17, of Sammamish, Wash., a senior at Eastlake High School, has worked her way from participant to event lead for her local Relay for Life over the past four years, and now leads 20 other high school students in organizing an event that brings together more than 400 people a year to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Inspired to volunteer by her mother's experience with breast cancer, Rachel manages logistics from team recruitment to timeline management to ensure that the event runs smoothly.
Eshika Saxena, 16, of Bellevue, Wash., a junior at Interlake High School, has coordinated a range of opportunities for girls to participate in engaging, hands-on STEM activities through "TakeKnowledGe," the nonprofit she founded to address the gender gap she's experienced as a young woman interested in math and technology. Eshika, who leads by example through her officer roles in school STEM programs, also presented about her mentoring successes to more than 500 participants at a teen action fair.
Eli Stanciu, 15, of College Place, Wash., a freshman at Walla Walla Valley Academy, played a lead role in an initiative to create a playground at Fort Walla Walla Park, dedicating hundreds of hours to raising money and awareness for the project and soliciting support from groups from the local Rotary to city council.
Eli's efforts have helped to raise more than $120,000 for the playground, which is expected to be constructed in the summer of 2018.
"Prudential is proud to recognize these remarkable young people for using their energy, creativity and compassion to bring meaningful change to their communities," said Prudential Chairman and CEO John Strangfeld. "We hope their stories inspire others to consider how they can do the same."
"These middle level and high school students have not only improved the lives of the people and communities they've served – they also set an important example for their peers," said JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of NASSP. "These honorees prove that you're never too young to make a difference."
About The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards represents the United States' largest youth recognition program based solely on volunteer service. All public and private middle level and high schools in the country, as well as all Girl Scout councils, county 4-H organizations, American Red Cross chapters, YMCAs and affiliates of Points of Light's HandsOn Network, were eligible to select a student or member for a local Prudential Spirit of Community Award. These Local Honorees were then reviewed by an independent judging panel, which selected State Honorees and Distinguished Finalists based on criteria including personal initiative, effort, impact and personal growth.
While in Washington, D.C., the 102 State Honorees – one middle level and one high school student from each state and the District of Columbia – will tour the capital's landmarks, meet top youth volunteers from other parts of the world, attend a gala awards ceremony at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, and visit their congressional representatives on Capitol Hill. On April 30, 10 of the State Honorees – five middle level and five high school students – will be named America's top youth volunteers of 2018. These National Honorees will receive additional $5,000 awards, gold medallions, crystal trophies and $5,000 grants from The Prudential Foundation for nonprofit charitable organizations of their choice.
Since the program began in 1995, more than 120,000 young volunteers have been honored at the local, state and national level. The program also is conducted by Prudential subsidiaries in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Ireland, India, China, Brazil and Poland. In addition to granting its own awards, The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards program also distributes President's Volunteer Service Awards to qualifying Local Honorees.
The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and voice for middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and school leaders from across the United States. The association connects and engages school leaders through advocacy, research, education, and student programs. NASSP advocates on behalf of all school leaders to ensure the success of each student and strengthens school leadership practices through the design and delivery of high quality professional learning experiences. Reflecting its long-standing commitment to student leadership development, NASSP administers the National Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society, National Elementary Honor Society, and National Student Council. For more information about NASSP, located in Reston, VA, visit www.nassp.org.
About Prudential Financial
Prudential Financial, Inc. (NYSE: PRU), a financial services leader, has operations in the United States, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Prudential's diverse and talented employees are committed to helping individual and institutional customers grow and protect their wealth through a variety of products and services, including life insurance, annuities, retirement-related services, mutual funds and investment management. In the U.S., Prudential's iconic Rock symbol has stood for strength, stability, expertise and innovation for more than a century. For more information, please visit www.news.prudential.com.
For Spirit of Community Awards program logo and medallion graphics, please visit https://spirit.prudential.com/resources/media
SOURCE Prudential Financial, Inc.